It’s not the best of times to be celebrating, but some cultures know how to lift spirits.

¡Viva Orgullo!

The event — a homage to the Hispanic and Indigenous communities — is in its 10th year. 

Presented by the Unity Coalition, Celebrate ORGULLO is traditionally a week filled with arts and cultural experiences. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s edition is almost entirely virtual. The exception being a drive-in movie on the final night.

“We’ve had to retool our festival,” said Herb Sosa, the Unity Coalition president and chief executive officer.

The virus has “equalized everybody’s needs,” said Sosa, while laying bare societal problems. “We’ve realized how vulnerable we are.”

Sosa’s family comes from Cuba. The Communist island south of Florida plays an integral part of Miami’s Latin American culture. Cuban rum, cigars, plátanos and flamingo dancing are often noted by Hollywood filmmakers and globe-trotting journalists.

The dream of freedom is a difficult reality for some. A recent article in the Miami El Nuevo Herald revealed violence against Latino LGBT immigrants sometimes goes unreported to authorities. 

“Crimes against our LGB — and especially T — communities in South Florida is a real issue,” said Sosa. “Cultural stereotypes, misled religious beliefs, ingrained mistrust of law enforcement and government … and now a green light on all things hate from the highest office of the land. Welcome to South Florida, and most of the U.S. in 2020.”

The article, written by Daniel Shoer Roth, examined how Hispanic and Latin immigrants suffer aggression and harassment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“The study mentioned is a great tool, and I commend FIU, SAO and SAVE ... but only useful if real reform, real changes in culture and mindset. Real respect for those that are different from you, actually is taken seriously,” said Sosa. 

Hispanic heritage was first recognized in 1968 when former President Lyndon Johnson made it a week-long observation. Former President Ronald Reagan expanded the designation to a 30-day period (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) in 1988. Sept. 15 marks the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrated their independence days Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. More than 20 nations share the Spanish language with different visions of Hispanic culture. 

“There is no one voice and that’s how it should be,” said Sosa. “We can have diversity even among our own parents and family.”

A women’s community forum on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. kicks off the ORGULLO schedule. Trans activist June Raven Romero is slated to be one of the forum’s participants. Raven Romero was quite critical of the Miami area in a recent appearance on UCTV.

“I think people are under this impression that Miami is this metropolis and it’s a megacity that is welcoming to all kinds of people, that it’s very liberal and there are all resources here, but the truth is trans people come here because they know the weather is good, it’s more liberal than the rest of Florida,” Raven Romero continued. “The livelihood is easier than San Francisco or New York City to afford, let’s say, but the truth is the resources and the networks are not here for trans people. They have not been long-established, they are not good and large enough, they’re not connected properly.”

Raven Romero, head trainer at TransSocial, brought up the issue of sex work with host Samantha Letroy. The pandemic coupled with Florida’s historically low wages and a too often dysfunctional unemployment benefits system, will cause some transgender people to do sex work, Raven Romero said.

“This economy is going to push us into survival work,” Raven Romero said. “That’s been true for the transgender people and it will be even more true in this economy. We’re going to have to venture out and do sex work, just statistically, that’s what’s going to happen and I would say to people who do venture out and do that work, start familiarizing yourself with the organizations in your city that defend that kind of work and defend your rights.”

Raven Romero also emphasized sex workers should get tested regularly for an array of diseases, not just COVID-19. 

“Make it a thing now,” she said, “Now that COVID tests are so common and so necessary, work in the rest of the litany of tests.”

Along with education and health, ORGULLO offers dance, ballet, jazz, spoken word, a virtual tour of the Everglades and Miccosukee sacred land and a mask auction for charity. 

“That mask brings out the beauty in your eyes,” said comedian Fay, an ORGULLO hostess. The compliment is one of Fay’s COVID-19 pick-up lines

Celebrities have designed masks for bid during a virtual auction for charity on Oct. 6. The auction benefits the MicroGiving LGBT Relief Fund, which, Sosa said, is sending aid to Colombia. 

On the same night, choreographer Randolph Ward adds to the event’s “BlackOUT Performances” with an exclusive piece that brings elements of Peruvian and Brazilian movements together for expression of gender fluidity, feminism and skin color. 

ORGULLO also highlights the work of Richard Blanco, a gay Cuban American, who provided the words for former President Barack Obama’s second inaugural poem, “One Today.” An affiliate faculty member at Florida International University’s Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment (CHUE), Blanco is scheduled to participate in ORGULLO’s spoken word night, Thursday, Oct. 8, live on YouTube and Facebook beginning at 8 p.m.

“I haven’t settled on anything quite yet,” Blanco told SFGN in a telephone interview on Friday. “...sort of interested in the way our cultural identities intersect with our sexuality, something I call cultural sexuality. Longing for a place and home. As a gay child, that sense of somewhere over the rainbow of someday belonging to a community and supported by a community and proud. Our own country so to speak.”

Celebrate ORGULLO concludes Oct. 14 with a drive-in movie at Dezerland Park. “Two Eyes,” a gay, trans and Indigenous film set in the western United States, makes its South Florida premiere. Tickets are $40 and the film begins at 7 p.m. at 14401 NE 19th Ave. in North Miami.  

Interested in Unity Coalition? The group operates a YouTube channel where discussions happen on vital issues in the LGBT community. 

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